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Two studies published in Nature today highlight disparities in education and nutrition across the African continent from 2000 to 2015.

Both studies, which were conducted by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington (and included researchers from the BDI), map the continent in 5X5 square kilometres. Mapping at this level of detail reveals inequalities which are often hidden by maps at national and provincial level and can help identify programme and policy successes and failures at the local level.

Education and nutrition are critical factors in children’s health and future opportunities. Increases in basic schooling, particularly in young women, are linked to improved health for mothers and children. However, inadequate or improper nutrition, especially in the first five years of life, is closely associated with poor health and brain development, as well as increased risks for disease and early death. Mapping children’s growth and basic schooling provides valuable insights into where to direct resources.

Dr Simon Hay, senior author of both papers, Director of Geospatial Science at IHME and affiliate of the Big Data Institute said: “The maps not only help to reveal local ‘hot spots’ of low education levels and children’s poor nutrition, but also shine a spotlight on communities implementing successful educational and nutritional programs over the past 15 years, from which we can learn. Precision public health is a new field of study which will be invaluable over the next 12 years to help effectively and equitably target resources as counties strive to meet their Sustainable Development Goals.”

The researchers found persistently high prevalence of stunting, wasting, and underweight and low levels of completed education in 14 countries stretching from Senegal in the west to Eritrea in the east.  They examined average years of education between the ages of 15 to 49 and found wide gaps in years of basic schooling between people in rural and urban areas and that males routinely averaged more years of basic schooling than females. In some areas of South Sudan, northern Nigeria and Northern Kenya women in this age group averaged less than two years of schooling in 2015.

In a personal commentary on the studies, also published in the current issue of Nature, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate highlighted the importance of collecting reliable data, stating “Data gaps undermine our ability to target resources, develop policies and track accountability. Without good data, we’re flying blind. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.”

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.